Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Troubling Voice of Jeremiah

The figure of the prophet Jeremiah sits painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.  He is portrayed as a downcast old man who has seen the fall of Jerusalem, the destruction of the Temple, and the destruction of the  Kingdom of  Judah.  With the fall of Judah, the promised land had been taken away from the people of Israel.  On either side of him stand two mourning women, mourning the fall of both the Kingdom of Israel and the Kingdom of Judah.  Jeremiah's sadness, no doubt, fueled by the insistent rebellion of the People of Israel and Judah.  His warnings went unheeded.  His pleadings only got him in trouble.  God had sent him to warn the people of Judah that they were now in danger, having pushed His hand away from them.  The people of Judah had embraced every sort of depravity and evil.  They engaged in the sin of syncretism: they worshipped the God of Israel on the Temple Mount and went into the Valley of Hinnom and worshipped multiple idols even though to do so was to break faith with God.

One might argue that Jeremiah was too late.  Things had gotten so bad, that his words of warning from God went unheeded.  I wonder if his words weren't meant for those who did hear and listen, even if they were a minority.  I wonder if his words weren't kept so that when Israel had finally been returned back to their land, they would remember and stay away from their former ways

I wonder if we are not in such a time ourselves.  Is there no perversion or sin not embraced by this society?  This did not happen over a small time, but over decades. We drove God from the public square and roundly mocked anyone who does believe in Him.  We have so devalued human life and family that we are watching butchery of unbelievable proportions in this country that we turn a blind eye to the trafficking of human baby parts.  The family is falling upon hard times through economic pressures, constant redefinition, and being treated as irrelevant.  Religion has been treated as a purely private matter that can be molded into whatever is comfortable.  Anyone who points this out is reviled and dismissed as a intolerant relic of days best forgotten.

Are things too far gone?  I don't know, but the troubling voice of Jeremiah needs to be ringing out again; calling us back from the brink of insanity.  That voice needs to be heard with clarity no matter how unsettling it is. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Precepts of Church 4: Confession

    As we continue through the precepts of the Church, I wish to just remind people of the purpose of these columns.  After teaching for 25 years in classrooms at various levels, it has been apparent to me that it is human nature that people will avail themselves to the lowest standard set.  The job of those who are in authority is to set the standard high AND help those placed in their care to get there.  The Church understands this well and in having these precepts, they are setting a standard of criteria of what is the minimum of someone to call themselves Catholic.  These precepts are not a checklist, but items to be indicative of someone who wants that relationship with God.

    Since our Catholic Faith is primarily about a relationship with God, our Catholic family, and the human race, any and all aspects familiar to us regarding relationships come into play.  Those relationships will have times where harm has been done; we call that sin.  Sometimes those sins will hurt the relationship, sometimes those sins will destroy the relationship.  For the relationship to go forward, there must reconciliation.  Hence, the Church also addresses this reality.

    In the Code of Canon Law, it is stated: “After having attained the age of discretion, each of the faithful is bound by obligation faithfully to confess serious sins at least once a year.” (Canon 989)  The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) handles this from 1440-1470.

 Let’s break this down:

“After having attained the age of discretion”  Classically, this age had been determined to be 7 to 8 years old.  The age of reason is that moment when there exist a level of understanding of the difference between good and evil/ right or wrong.  This is important as there are three criteria for a mortal sin to be a mortal sin: a) Serious matter, b) full knowledge, c) full use of free will. ( see CCC 1857-1859) Once one can understand on a necessary level these, then sin that can sever the relationship with God can happen.  When one or two of these criteria are not in play, then venial sin has been committed. (CCC 1862) Venial sin damages but does not sever the relationship with God.  However, it does need to be forgiven as well.  There are times in Mass where these sins are addressed and forgiven.  However, once mortal sin has occurred, then confession becomes necessary before any other sacrament can be done.

“Each of the faithful”  Those who have passed the age of reason  and are baptized are those counted among this group.

“is bound by obligation”  Because baptism enters us into a relationship with God, there are certain obligations that would be endemic of a good thriving relationship.  Among those, would to be honest when harm has been done to the other in that relationship. The gravity of mortal sin destroys our relationship with God.  It cannot ignored nor left unattended.  To die in a state of mortal sin is to die having forfeited heaven.  Hence, reconciliation must take place if we are to be restored into that relationship.  Using our human relationships as an example, when we have been deliberately hurt by one we love, can we simply ignore it?  If no sorrow is expressed to us, regardless of our desire to forgive, then full reconciliation cannot take place.  Our sorrow and  mercy act as balms to heal that damage done.  If we love the other, then we will readily want to heal the damage done by our choices and seek to show mercy to those who have harmed us.  The obligation existent in the relationship to mutually love each other would drive us to seek reconciliation. 

“to faithfully confess serious sins”   Serious sin, also known as mortal sin, must be confessed.  The first criteria for mortal sin, grave matter, is specified by the 10 commandments: honoring one’s mother and father, prohibition against the taking of innocent human life, theft, lying, adultery (any use of human sexuality outside of the bonds of marriage), lust , and coveting. When a person has crossed these line knowingly and full use of free will, they have willfully severed that relationship with God by pursuing activities that God has said gravely offend Him and His plan. These are moral issues; whether a particular society finds them legal or preferable changes nothing of their reality nor effects.  Seriousness is not dictated by society nor government, but by God.

“at least once a year”  Notice, first, it says ‘at least’ and not ‘at most’.  This is connected to  another of the precepts, to be dealt with later, that one must go to Communion at least once a year.  The bottom line is, though, that one is not to receive the Eucharist in a state of mortal sin.  To receive the Eucharist in mortal sin is itself  the mortal sin of sacrilege.  It is to act as if a relationship is there when it is not; it is an act of deceit.  Relationships thrive on truth.  They need the activity of mercy and sorrow to bind harm.  No more than I hope one would only apologize to a spouse or loved one once a year, would I imagine a person who wants that relationship with God would simply allow separation to fester until that time of the year came around.

    The most common objection to confession is the protestant belief that I don’t need to confess my sins to a priest; I can just tell God I am sorry and be done with it.  We start with that this is not biblical.  In the Old Testament, the Book of Leviticus is clear that the priest acts as an intermediary or intercessor in the sin offering.  That a priests would act as a conduit of the mercy of God is clear.  In the Gospel of John, after the Resurrection, Jesus says to the eleven “As the Father has sent me, so I send you”.  Jesus was sent for the forgiveness of sin and the reconciliation with the Father that was now possible through His death and Resurrection.  They were to now share in this mission. Furthermore, he breathes on them (a sign of the life of God) and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit, If you forgive men’s sin, they are forgiven them, if you hold them bound, they are held bound.” (John 20:21-23)  These men and their successors were given a new authority they did not have before.  They were to be those who acted as intermediaries who forgive or withhold forgiveness (let that sink in for a second); they are the new priests.  If we were to merely say in our own hearts, “God, I am truly sorry”, then such a gesture would be unneeded.

    In fact, since the forgiveness of sin and reconciliation with the Father is only possible by the working of the Holy Spirit (see above passage again), only those to whom the authority given to the Apostles and their successors (also known as bishops) can extend this forgiveness in the manner that Jesus Himself set up!  At ordination to the  levels of priest and bishop in the sacrament of Holy Orders, the same Holy Spirit that was given to the eleven is given to these men for the same exact reason.  Bishops can delegate the authority of reconciliation to only priests.  By the way Jesus set things up after the resurrection, one most certainly does need the sacrament of Reconciliation to be restored to a relationship with God that has been severed by mortal sin.

    Remember this precept exists for one reason: to keep us in a eternal relationship with God.  It gives us multiple opportunities to seek His grace for conversion. It isn’t an imposition, but a blessed relief so that we can allow healing to take place

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Do You Trust God?

This morning's homily from our deacon has been in my head all day.  The central question was "Do you trust God?"  We had two stories of widows in the Scriptures today: the story of the widow of Zarapeth and the widow in the temple.  Both find themselves in difficult straights.  We know nothing of the widow in the temple other than she gave two small copper coins, all she had,  as a thanksgiving offering to God.  The widow of Zarapeth, we know, has a child.  They have been hit hard by a famine brought on by a drought.  She has enough food left for a small meal for the two of them after which she has consigned herself that her and her son will die of hunger after this last meal.  Elijah, after being told of her plan, tells her if she will instead give him a small meal, that God would provide for her and her son.  Think of what he ask: Please give me the last of your food and God will provide for you.  What faith she has in doing it!  God follows though on the promise. The same with the widow in the temple: what an act of faith she makes in trusting God's care for her even if she is willing to give what little she has left as an thanksgiving offering.  These stories litter Scripture: trust in God and live.
That's awful hard though.  It certainly is counter intuitive.  In a world that tells us that we get out of live what we take and what we control, trusting in something we cannot see seems foolhardy.  Anti-theist will mock it as blind foolishness in a sky fairy.  We will be told to be practical and self-preserving. 
However, we have to dig a bit deeper.  Not only does God want to be trusted, a curse is laid upon those who won't.  He lets them trust in other things.  The other things always let them down. The people of Israel were told to trust in God for their sustenance and safety.  When they did, things went well.  When they didn't, things collapsed.  When they people of Israel trusted in God their kingdom became strong.  When they started to trust in other gods, wealth, military alliances, and power, things deteriorated and collapsed.  Their false gods could not save them.  Their wealth made them targets.  Their military alliances turned on them.
Look to our own age.  We are taught to trust science, power, wealth, and self-determination.  Anything of God that is trusted is roundly mocked by the elites; the same elites who will blame the failure of these very things  on God or proof the God doesn't exist.  The world routinely mocks sexual abstinence and lauds promiscuity (with birth control of course...because birth control will save us!).  However if people trusted God in the use of their sexuality the scourges of STD's would almost non-existent, abortion almost non-existent, the scourge of pornography as well...not to mention that relationships would be greatly strengthened and divorce increasingly rare.  We are told now to accept cohabitation as the new norm.  Facts be damned as far as to the long term damage done!  Well meaning people trusted and got burned.  We trusted the world and human life and dignity got massively cheapened, family life collapsed, and a plethora of diseases killed, permanently maimed, sterilized, or harmed millions.
We are taught, above all, to trust in our own desires.  If my desires are strangely oriented towards the help of other, then good for you.  However if my desires are towards accumulation of wealth, power, and honor for me, then good for me.  To delude ourselves into trusting such, a thick layering of bogus self-esteem is lathered.  What we end with are angry individuals, precious snowflakes, unable to operate.  If they are able to operate, they accumulate and consume like locusts never finding a lasting satisfaction.
If we think about 99% of the problems we have and this world has, is it not a direct result of trusting in those 'sensible' things instead of God?  God doesn't want us to trust him because he is on some divine ego trip; he wants us to trust Him so he can provide for us.  Unlike the nonsense espoused by charlatans in the health and wealth gospel (neither of which God promises), God gives us what we need even if it isn't what we want.
So many young men refuse to even entertain the possibility of priesthood because of the immense amount of trust required.  So many young women don't entertain religious life for the same reason.  So many young couples don't trust God and cohabitate, injecting a venom into their relationship which more often than not will kill it.  This lack of trust does not serve us well.  Furthermore, it doesn't have to be this way! 
God doesn't ask us to trust him so that he may destroy us.  He doesn't ask us to trust him so as to watch us suffer.  He asks us to trust Him as an acknowledgement that He loves us and that nothing of this world can offer more than He can.  Whether that lack of trust comes in withholding the thanksgiving sacrifice, compromising with our sexuality, running away from a vocation, we need to stop running and start trusting.  We will never know until we start to trust.  If the world has a problem with that, tough!  What the world wants from you is to use you not love you.
These are things rolling around my mind right now.  Do I trust God?  Completely?  What holds me back?  What ill-fated alliances am I making as a back up plan? What compromises do I make? All food for spiritual thought and prayer.  

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Precepts of The Church 3: Tithing


 Normally, I have an obnoxious need to do these things in order, but as the Gospel is the Widow’s Mite this week (Mark 12:38-44), I will tie in this precept of the Church with the readings for this week.  The Code of Canon Law states: “The Christian Faithful are obliged to assist with the needs of the Church so that the Church has what is necessary for divine worship, for apostolic works and works of charity and for the decent sustenance of ministers.  They are also obliged to promote social justice and, mindful of the precept of the Lord, to assist the poor from their own resources.” (Canon 222, cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church 2043.2)

    Before the canon is broken down, it is important to understand from where this comes.  In the Old Testament, there were two basic types of sacrifice: the sin/peace offering and the thanksgiving sacrifice.  The sin/peace offering was always the best of one’s herds or flocks and was done to seal a covenant (peace) or because of sin.  The Sacrifice of Jesus of the Cross ended the need for such a sacrifice to be redone and every Mass is a direct participation in this one sacrifice. The thanksgiving offering was the offering of the first fruits of one’s labors as an act of thanksgiving.  The tithe was holy to the Lord (holy meaning set apart for God‘s use) (see Leviticus 27:30), was to be dispersed between the needy and for the sustenance of those whose duty it is to serve God (see Deuteronomy 14:22-29). So evil was it to withhold the tithe that the Prophet Malachi refers to it as stealing from God (Malachi 3: 9-11), an act which carries a curse with it.  While the sin/peace offering was abrogated by the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, the thanksgiving sacrifice was not.  The New Testament refers to alms-giving multiple times as an act of mercy that benefits both the receiver and the giver.  Alms-giving is an act of mercy that reflects the love of God being actively mimicked by His followers.

    Let us break down the code:

“The Christian faithful (those baptized) are obliged to assist with the needs of the Church”.  This speaks to a larger fact that mercy is not a special addition to the life of a Christian, but a core identity.  This also speaks to the fact that the Church has a mission and duty which must be assisted.  To both ensure these things are done and those who do it are given what they need, the Church, building upon the Scriptures themselves, keep consistent the call for the thanksgiving sacrifice (tithe) for the same exact reason as seen in the Bible.

1. “for divine worship” The Christian Faithful are obliged to assist in those things necessary for worship.  This is a long list that includes buildings, vessels, vestments, bread, wine, and so on that are used in the worship of God.  In this would also be the upkeep of said items.

2. “for apostolic works”  These would refer to the things a parish is to do: educate, evangelize, form, and provide spiritual opportunities for spiritual growth for both her parishioners and the community at large.  Our school, education programs, evangelization efforts, and things of this nature would fall under this category.  Again, the Christian faithful are obliged by the giving of time, talent, and treasure, to ensure the work gets done.

3. “and works of charity”  The help of the poor and those who are in need are also to be tended to by one’s tithe and volunteering.  The Church and each of her members are always supposed to be actively looking to the needs of others in the same exact way the Jesus did.  The Catholic Church is still the biggest giver of charity and assistance in the world.  It was the Catholic Church that brought us and invented institutions such as hospitals, colleges and universities, hospice, orphanages, and other institutions that are hallmarks of western civilization.  We are not allowed to be the rich man who ignores Lazarus at the gate.  The giving of our resources and time so as to help those in need are seen as central to the Catholic life.

4. “and for the decent sustenance of ministers”  While no one should grow rich working for the Church (and in this country they do not), the wages of those who work for the church are taken from the tithe.  Why?  I, as a priest, am supposed to give myself completely over to the service of Church; I, and all other priests, are forbidden to own businesses or take secular jobs.  The same is true for all clerics.  Furthermore the execution of the apostolic works requires staff (teachers, administration, for example).  The ability of the parish to properly staff so as to execute these duties well is wholly dependent upon what comes in with the tithe.

    When the tithe is withheld, it constrains the ability to the parish and diocese to go about the mission of the Church.  Many will say that parishes are in trouble because they spend too much.  This is not true.  Most parishes are in trouble because the tithe is routinely withheld.  This cripples the parish in the ability to engage fully in the mission of the Church.

     Finally the Canon says, “They are also obliged to promote social justice and, mindful of the precept of the Lord, to assist the poor from their own resources.” To promote social justice is more than to vote for people who do good things or whom we will delegate our own responsibilities; it is to look to the good of the society and to realize it is not someone else’s duty to show mercy; it is ours.  The taxes we pay are not in lieu of the tithe.  Mercy is not something we delegate away, but something we always actively engage in.

    The tithe or support is an obligation.  It is about the first fruits and not the scraps.  So grievous was the withholding of the tithe or giving scraps instead of first fruits, that God withheld his blessings from those who withheld their tithe.  I can say from my own experience that money problems and withholding the tithe always seem to go hand in hand.  By the same token, tithing and financial stability have always gone hand in hand as well.  I know it doesn’t numerically add up, but for some reason it works.  Perhaps Malachi isn’t off base. It wasn’t as if my income changed.  We cannot expect financial stability by taking from God what is His.

    For me, it is simple:  I take my income, divide it by 10.  That amount is then split three ways: half of it goes to the parish to help in its work, a tenth goes to the diocese to help it in its work, and the other 40% goes to whatever charities I wish to give it to so as to enable them to do what they need to do.  This would be the standard that is recommended across the board.  This is a baseline, I usually give more to each of these as needed; not because I am a good guy or a wealthy guy, but because I understand the immense blessings God has given to me and I show  thanks by sharing that abundance with others.  As God is never to be outdone in generosity, we should be generous.  The widow’s mite was all she had to give.  Her action showed a profound trust in God’s benevolence and love.  As with the other precepts,  God does not ask what He does so as to destroy us, but so that we have life in abundance.  The tithe isn’t merely about paying bills, it is so much more.  It is about a basic disposition of trust, or mercy, and of compassion.  To withhold it is to actively thwart the ability of God’s people to do the mission to which His Son set us.  Like the other precepts, we will have stand before God and answer.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Precepts of The Church Part 2: Mass and Holy Days of Obligation

high mass | Catholic Lane 
 The first precept of the Church has to do with Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation; namely the participation in Mass on these days.  The Code of Canon Law states: “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass; they are to abstain from those labors and business concerns which impede the worship to be rendered to God, the joy which is proper to the Lord’s day or the proper relaxation of mind and body.” ( Canon 1247) 2180 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church says the same thing as well.  Let’s unpack this canon.

“On Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation” :  This would constitute every single Sunday of the calendar year and the following Feasts: Immaculate Conception (Dec 8th), Christmas (Dec 25th), Mary, Mother of God  (Jan 1st), Epiphany (Jan 6th), Ascension Thursday (40 days after Easter), Corpus Christi (Thursday after Trinity Sunday), Assumption (August 15th) and All Saints (Nov 1st).  In the United States Epiphany and Corpus Christi have been moved to the following Sunday.  Additionally, in this diocese, Ascension has been moved to the following Sunday.  Immaculate Conception is always celebrated unless it falls on a Sunday (Sunday of Advent would take precedence). Christmas is a holy day regardless of what day it falls on.  The others are celebrated unless they fall on a Saturday or Monday.

the faithful” : This would be all baptized Catholics.  Those who are ill or taking care of those who are ill are exempt.  All others should make every effort to participate during Sunday and holy day masses.  I am aware that some employers make this near impossible. If you are an employer, don’t be that guy.  I realize that despite best efforts a church cannot be located in time whilst traveling.  Although should help in planning travel and vacations.  Save these, the faithful are obliged to participate in Sunday Mass.  To choose to not do so is a mortal sin.  To choose to not go to Mass for insufficient reason (stated above) constitutes a mortal sin in that it is serious matter (despite what our society says) and is done so with full use of knowledge and free will.  Hence, to willingly skip Mass incurs a penalty of not receiving Communion until one has been reconciled with God through Confession.  To be faithful means that we act in good faith and seek that which will build up that faith.

“are bound to participate in the Mass”:  Bound.  You are bound to participate in Mass if your are a faithful Catholic. Sunday Mass and holy day Masses are not optional!  This also means more than occupying a pew for x amount of minutes.  To participate means that one comes in with a disposition to worship God, to give thanks to God, and to seek a deeper relationship with God and His people.

“They are to abstain from those labors and business concerns which impede the worship to be rendered to God”:   Mass is to take central stage on Sunday.  It is the first priority.  I know this has gotten difficult because so many other entities have supplanted Mass as the first priority.  Let’s be honest, though, it was ground we ceded.  Sports, sport practices, jobs, and whole host of other things have reached into Sunday morning demanding this time.  I am not saying these things are evil.  However, to be blunt, the 1st Commandment does say “I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me” and the third commandment says “Keep holy the Sabbath.”   These are commandments given by God.  They are commandments, not suggestions.

Sunday takes precedence because it is the day of the Resurrection.  It stands as the center of the week.  From the very early Church on, it was the day when the Christian community gathered together for worship and thanksgiving of God.  Because of the latter, the Greek word, eukharistia, meaning ‘thanksgiving’ was attached to the worship service.  Furthermore, as Christ says in Mark 2:27: “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”  The Sabbath was to be for the benefit of humanity.  There is a human necessity to both worship and give thanks.  It staves off false pride, a sense of entitlement, and gives us proper sight in how to approach the world.  In Mass, we are furthermore given the grace we need to meet the challenges of our time, to negotiate this world, to grow free from our sinful inclinations, and to set the world anew.  Also, Jesus says  in John 6:53, “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life within you.”  Participation in Mass gives the opportunity for that new life.

So central to Catholic life is Sunday Mass that the Church has always seen it as central, with Vatican  II declaring it to be the ‘source and summit’ of the Catholic faith (see Lumen Gentium 11, Catechism of the Catholic Church 1324).  To willingly skip Sunday Mass is to starve ourselves spiritually and to drain the life of Christ from us; a life that we will need to enter heaven.  Sunday Mass is celebrated by anticipatory Masses on Saturday evening through Sunday day and night.  Other Masses of the week do not take the place of the Sunday Mass!  If your child goes to school weekday Masses, this is not in lieu of Sunday.  Unless the weekday be a holy day of obligation, no sin is incurred by missing Mass on a weekday.  This is not so for Sunday Mass.  This is not so for Holy days of Obligation.

“the joy which is proper to the Lord’s day or the proper relaxation of mind and body.”:  Again, the Sabbath is made for man.  We need rest.  Our ridding Sunday of its rest has not been to our betterment.  We, as a nation, are more stressed out than ever.  We are finding that secular engagements can be a demanding master.  That we choose to act as if Sunday is just another day has not served us, our country, or our parishes well.  We physically, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally need down time.  Maybe the God who hardwired us knows this.

This precept, as all the following precepts are meant for our betterment.  Challenging though they be, they are meant to help us grow in holiness, maturity, and faith.  Withdrawing from them will produce nothing positive or good.  Entering into them and participating as God commanded us to do (recall Jesus’ command to ’do this in memory of me’ at that first Mass, the Last Supper) can only be to our good if we allow it to be so.  So come giving thanks, expressing sorrow, expressing glory and adoration of God so that He may, in turn, give you an abundance of His grace.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Precepts of the Church: Introduction

These precepts are an answer to the question of what does it mean to be a Catholic in good standing.  These precepts are the baseline, the beginning, the bare minimum of what the Church says are concrete measures of what being a Catholic entails.  I write these pastor’s pens with an understanding that all the precepts are is the jumping point of the Catholic life and relationship with God and His Church.  I will go into greater detail on each one over the course of several columns so that we may see why each is an integral part of the Catholic life, how each is necessary to the identity of a Catholic, and how each points to a call to holiness that we are given by virtue of our baptism.

    I know that in our culture over the past 5 or 6 decades we have adapted a ‘away with the rules’ approach.  Those who uphold rules are seen as Pharisaical or rigid ideologues impinging on freedom.  It has led to a moral anarchy in our society where what is moral or immoral is up to me.  Likewise, we have deluded ourselves into believing that being Catholic is whatever I say it is and that if the Church has criteria on what constitutes a member in good standing then the Church is out of line.  This, too has led to a moral anarchy where being holy devolved into being good which devolved into being nice which devolved into being inoffensive.  We dismiss divine revelation for human wisdom; saying divine revelation is just human rules.  Even the Bible itself is dismissed as a mythology anthology full of fables and tales.  All of this done as an act of rebellion in which I am my own master. 
    The Catholic Church, though, is no mere human institution.  If Jesus is who He says He is, then what He calls the Church becomes the guiding principle. To this Church He said “what you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, what you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Mathew 16:19, 18:18)  The Church built its teachings on those of Jesus.  Jesus’ teaching flowed from the Old Testament, especially the 10 Commandments.  Hence, the Church has the right and duty to define what life in Christ looks like.  The precepts of the Church do this; they give us an understanding of what it means to be a disciple.  If you look at the precepts, they read like a list of those things that will keep you healthy enough to engage in the work of the Gospel.

    I guess a colloquial way of looking at it is that here is the meal and exercise plan if you are to possess the strength to get about the business of the kingdom.  At one time, there was a 7th precept: To engage in the evangelization mission of the Church. 

    I am afraid if I were to say that only those who fulfill the precepts of the Church can receive the sacraments, many would fall away.  However, that is exactly what the Church is saying.  There are standards.  These are the measuring line.  I invite you to look at this list and ask yourself both ‘have I been doing these, and how do I start back up if I have not.’  That latter part is of great importance!  Remember, we are a Church of mercy and forgiveness.  However the human heart has to be so disposed to mercy and forgiveness before it can be given.  In the next 3 or 4 weeks, I will be going one by one on these precepts as a preparation to the Year of Mercy that is starting on December 8th. 

    In each precept, I will also point out that each precept is a minimum and not a maximum.  The goal of a healthy relationship isn’t defined in what is the least that has to be done.  If that is the case, could one actually say they love the other?  The more one loves, the lighter these precepts are and the deeper we will go.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Lord, I Want To See...Maybe

The Gospel for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B, is St. Mark's account of the healing of Bartimaeus.  Bartimaeus is a blind man who hears Jesus is coming through.  He says two things: "Son of David, have pity on me" (twice) and "Master, I want to see."  Even though he is initially dissuaded from approaching Jesus by those around him, he persists.  The lot of a blind man in the time of Jesus was s dismal existence.  Unable to hold a job or farm, their lives were reduced to begging for their sustenance.  The regaining of sight was more than a mere regaining of a lost sense, it was the reconnection to life that the renewed sense allowed.  Once Bartimaeus is healed, he cannot be a blind man anymore.  A new life is given and  the expectations that go with this new life are part of the consequence of the healing.  Jesus acts on Bartimaeus' faith and restores his vision and tell him "Go your way, your faith has saved you."  What 'your way' does Bartimaeus choose?  We are told he follows Jesus.

So, is this a nice story of an interaction between a blind man and a loving Messiah?  No.  There is much more going on.  Let's break this down:

Bartimaeus seeks Jesus.  We hear of many cures that Jesus performs over the course of His ministry.  They all have a striking resemblance: they all are either brought to Jesus or approach Jesus themselves, such as Bartimaeus did.  Jesus didn't go looking for them.  Remember the story of the Prodigal Son from the Gospel of Luke; although the father mourns his son's absence, he does not go looking for him.  His son freely chose to leave and his son must freely choose to come back.  The miracles of Jesus are more than mere stories about what a good guy Jesus is.  All of the healings were about a restoration.  They point to what Jesus came to do: to restore humanity back into an eternal relationship with the Father.  That relationship had been estranged by sin.  Illness, blindness, possession, leprosy, and such were all signs of a  fractured or severed relationship whose presence kept the person from the fullness of life.  Jesus doesn't merely heal, he restores.

However, Bartimaeus his initially dissuaded from approaching Jesus.  He is rebuked and told to be silent.  We are not told by whom and for what reason, only that those around him are quite content for him to remain blind.  When a person decides to seek Jesus, there will always be people who will try to dissuade them.  Some will try to dissuade because they do not want conversion for themselves and cannot bear to have a person they know do so.  Some will try to dissuade because we don't want 'that type' of person amongst our company.  All who dissuade are agents of Satan.  Some will even try to convince that no need of healing is necessary or that their blindness is acceptable. The world is very adept at condoning sin under the guise of tolerance.  Even within the Church there are some who will say that one's blindness is fine.  They will say that this is what mercy looks like.  There is nothing merciful about allowing a person to remain in darkness; there is nothing merciful about prohibiting a restoration of sight when all that is necessary is the faith to seek it and the desire for a new life in Christ.

Bartimaeus, however, is not dissuaded in the least and only cries out all the louder.  This time Jesus calls for him and now there are those around Bartimaeus who tell him to 'Take courage, get up Jesus is calling you."   These are those who actually facilitate conversion, who seek what is good and help in the process of conversion, leading the blind to Christ.  Where those who dissuade are agents of Satan, those who encourage and are willing to lead a person to Christ are agents and disciples of Jesus.  This is our call as baptized Catholics.  To be amongst this group, though, presumes that we see.  We cannot be the blind leading the blind. (Luke 6:39)  A person who is a slave the sin will hardly be of much help in helping to free another who is a slave to sin.  Translated for Catholics: Do we seek to maintain a state of grace in our life, by embracing ongoing conversion (as witnessed to by regular Confession) and seeking to deepen our faith and understanding in Jesus, His Gospel, and His Church?  When we are given sight, it is so that we do as Bartimaeus did; follow Jesus.  It is hard to follow Jesus if we do make the effort to come to know what this entails.  Without the following of Jesus, we might as well be blind.

Finally, when Bartimaeus is asked by Jesus what he wants, he simply says "Master, I want to see!" Notice:  Master.  Bartimaeus makes a profession of faith of who Jesus is.  He is his master; Bartimaeus approaches as a servant.  The name, Bartimaeus, means son of the unclean one.  He is humanity.  His unclean status makes him unfit for the Kingdom.  His blindness is symbolic of this.  To go from unclean to clean necessitates his reorienting his life towards a new master, Jesus.  Only in this reorientation can he go from the son of the unclean one to being a son of God; hence the only reasonable to reaction to Jesus' intervention is for Bartimaeus to follow Him. 

All of this calls for a response on our part.  Do we embrace conversion?  Do we even seek it?  Because we happen to inhabit a pew every so often does not mean guaranteed entrance into heaven.  See Luke 13:22-27.  What we do in Church is supposed to inspire conversion in ourselves in such a powerful way that we become for others a path by which the blind are led to Jesus.  To believe that conversion can happen independent of the sacraments is a fool's game.  To believe that the role of Confession is optional is to steadfastly adhere to blindness. 

That the confessional has fallen largely silent is a stinging indictment against this age.  It is the work of Satan!  How can the blind see if we shut off the path to Jesus?  What does it say, my brother priests, when time for confession for the entire week is less time than an average meal and offered at a time so obnoxiously inconvenient to most that many do not come?  What does it say when 15-45 minutes are allotted for a parish of hundreds if not thousands of families?  Do we hide behind the ubiquitous " or by appointment" knowing that catching us is near impossible. Does this not send a message?  Do we not become the people telling Bartimaeus to be silent?    Yet, we have the audacity to complain that no one comes when we have set the stage for failure?  Do we preach about confession?  Do we speak of the reality of sin?  Do the words 'mortal sin' ever depart from our mouths?  Do we not see how this feeds into a mentality that empties out our churches?  The blame, so to speak, is not only there.  My brothers and sisters in the laity:  Are you insistent on confession?  Do you do an examination of conscience?  Do you allow the world to condone blindness, allowing the 'everyone is doing it' to be reason for your own willful blindness?  I might add this question to my brother priests as well.  How often do we avail ourselves of the sacrament of Reconciliation?  It will be very hard to treasure this sacrament if we ourselves are not open to conversion.

There is no room for "Lord, I want to see...maybe" or "but not now".  Blind disciples are ineffective at spreading the kingdom.  We must have the same humility as Bartimaeus.  We must admit our need for healing and restoration.  We must not allow others to dissuade us from this.  We must recognize that only in reorienting ourselves to God as our master, can we find such healing and restoration.  Jesus is ever near us, waiting for us to call out to Him. Can we say "Son of David, have mercy on me?"   Will we turn from the blindness of sin so as to walk in the way of Jesus?  Will we facilitate this possibility to others?  We know this world is becoming a darker and darker place as sin is called good and conversion is called evil.  In this dark night, we are called to be light.  To be light though, necessitates eschewing the darkness and blindness of sin and a embracing and living of the light of Christ.